EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

May 18, 2013

Column: Lift the cap on quality schools

President Obama, Gov. Patrick and other political leaders call education reform the civil rights issue of our era. Nowhere is that more true than in Lawrence and other “Gateway Cities” – older, medium-sized cities outside of Boston that are home to large numbers of new immigrants and high rates of poverty.

Gateway City schools must be the equalizer – providing children in these cities with a high quality educational foundation to enable them to compete in a vibrant economy and contribute to an equally vibrant democracy.

One way to ensure educational equity for Lawrence and other Gateway families would be to pass legislation co-sponsored by state Sen. Barry Finegold that would lift the cap on charter public schools in the state’s lowest performing school districts.

Next month will be the 20th anniversary of Massachusetts’ historic education reform law of 1993. One of the law’s goals was to make our public education system more equitable – in terms of funding, access to a quality education and accountability to the public.

The state put in place one of the nation’s most progressive school funding formulas, insuring equitable funding for each child and allowing charter schools to offer parents quality choices.

But today education reform’s goals of excellence and equity are threatened in Lawrence. The school district is in receivership after decades of underperformance. And in spite of the fact that the city’s charter schools dramatically outperform district schools, they are frozen in place with no more room to expand under state-imposed caps.

Massachusetts charter schools are doing more to close achievement gaps than any other group of public schools in the country – a claim confirmed by a new study conducted by researchers at Stanford University.

Statewide, the average charter public school student makes academic progress equivalent to spending two and a half more months in school in math and one and half more months in school in English (compared to district students). Statewide, 56 percent of charter schools have significantly larger learning gains in math, 44 percent in English. Only 13 percent of charter schools have results that are significantly worse than district schools in reading; 17 percent in math.

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